Is Silicon Valley Ageist?

Author: Adi Gaskell
Published: November 28, 2012 at 5:53 am

age discriminationOne suspects that ageism is something that's a problem throughout the world, with many talented older people struggling to find work in a world where employers prefer to hire people with more 'long-term potential'.

A Reuters report suggests that this is certainly the case in Silicon Valley.  Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising.  After all, Silicon Valley is famed as a place for young entrepreneurs to go and change the world.  Nevertheless, in such a knowledge rich environment, is it wise to deny yourself access to such extensive experience?

Reuters share the experience of Randy Adams, a C level executive looking for a CEO job in the Valley last year.  Each time he saw younger, less experienced candidates getting the jobs he thought were his.  He only got a job when he made a conscious effort to look younger.

"I don't think I would have been able to get this CEO job if I hadn't shaved my head," says Adams, who has founded eight venture-backed companies.

Whilst it's easy to see such an age averse culture as being at odds with the apparent meritocracy that pervades Silicon Valley, an understanding of the psychology of leadership goes some way to understanding why this occurs.

Nevertheless, 1/5 of employment cases put before California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 2010 cited age as the reason. That puts age below retaliation as a discrimination claim, but above racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual orientation.

Older executives wanting to get the jobs they crave have taken to ditching their briefcases for backpacks, their smart shoes for trainers (sneakers) and their wrist watches for their mobile phones, all in an attempt to appear younger and more in keeping with their intended colleagues.

Is this a natural psychological bias whereby we hire people like us, or should the Valley be actively looking for people with talent, whatever their age and background?


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Article Author: Adi Gaskell

A writer on management issues for publications such as Professional Manager, CMI, HRM Today, Business Works and Technorati. I also cover social media for Social Media Today, DZone and Social Business News.

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